Today is Mother’s Day and my birthday. It’s like having your birthday on Christmas day. Unsatisfactory. Nonetheless, the presents rolled in (from generous relations) as did breakfast in bed (from immediate family). I got my first ever present from herself. Bath salts. Fancy. As I pointed out to her, it represented a greater proportion of her weekly income (99%) than anyone else’s present had and I was suitably grateful.
The boys made me cards and Mr. Waffle, very daringly, bought me a vase and “The Book of Irish Mammies”. Herself read it cover to cover and I have just now got my hands on it. As herself commented, “You say that kind of thing all the time!” Well, middle age wasn’t long in catching up with me, now was it?
So to mother’s day: I read a post the other day about having it all. The author comes to the conclusion that mothers of young children can’t have it all but having children makes up for it. I think she’s right; at least given the way the world works now. Maybe it will be different in the future. I had no idea before I had children how they would change me – very much for the better, I think – I am a more tolerant, more patient and less selfish person now than I was before I became a parent. My children are a real source of delight and entertainment and the bigger they get, the better company they are. I would do it all again like a shot (though I would have a long nap first). I am the most popular person in the house and although it is tiring sometimes, it is, on balance, rather lovely.
The majority of the most successful women I know have no children. I also know some successful women with 1 child. One of my oldest friends is a heart surgeon with her own practice in the US and she has four small children. She bucks the trend. In my circle of acquaintance, she combines the maximum number of children with the maximum progress in a career. I was speaking to her about this today. “Yes,” she said, “I love my job and it is very rewarding but I work 80 hours a week and I always feel guilty that I don’t see enough of the children.” She has help and a supportive husband, she loves her job and she’s good at it but still she feels guilty. I don’t know whether it’s nature or society but the women I know do feel guilty when they spend a long time away from their children. The men don’t seem to. It’s not that they don’t love their children but they just seem to be wired differently or the expectations are different. As I look at the women and men of my generation, overwhelmingly work in the home and childcare are shared as they never were before. But still more men than women succeed in the world of work. Maybe it will take another generation to get it right.
But still, in my own balancing act, I think I have been lucky. I would like to spend more time with the children and I do feel guilty but not too guilty. My work is interesting and my colleagues supportive. I almost always come home with a briefcase full of papers but I don’t always read them. Maybe that’s as good as it gets.